One Man, Two Guvnors gained such huge acclaim at The National Theatre in 2011 that it must slightly daunting for anyone wishing to stage the comedy again, so relatively soon after its initial triumph.
But the good news is that this new co-production of Richard Bean’s comedy between Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Derby Theatre is an unalloyed treat.
Directed at Derby Theatre by Sarah Brigham, the farce is based on The Servant Of Two Masters, written in 1746 by Carlo Goldini.
Bean’s riotous version moves the action forward to Brighton in 1963.
After being fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall is skint and hungry. He manages to secure a new job as a minder for small time gangster Roscoe Crabbe. What Francis doesn’t know, is his new guvnor is really Roscoe’s sister
Rachel in disguise as her dead brother, who has been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers.
To further complicate matters, Francis grabs a second job working for Stubbers, who is hiding from the police. All Francis has to do to ensure his two guvnors don’t meet. What could go wrong?
To a large extent, this farce stands or falls on the quality of the actor playing Francis Henshall. Following in the footsteps of the likes of James Corden and Rufus Hound, David O’Reilly is in sublime form here, holding the audience in the palm of his hand throughout.
His wisecracks, physical comedy skills and his asides and interaction with the audience take the production up to a whole new level.
The play reaches a delirious high in the latter stages of the first half. In its willingness to involve the audience in the plot and its often improvised feel, it brings to mind a triumphant production on the same stage of Loot 15 years ago, in the Derby Playhouse era. High praise indeed.
And if the production doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first half again after the break, it’s still a very enjoyable comedy with the various farcical comings and goings of the characters all deftly handed.
O’Reilly obviously takes most of the plaudits among the cast but there are several strong supporting performances, including from George Kemp as upper class twit Stanley Stubbers, Alice Frankham as Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe, TJ Holmes displaying some sublime physical comedy skills as aged waiter Alfie, and Jack Brett as the hapless amateur actor Alan Dangle.
One additional element is the music. The production features performances from four-piece skiffle band The Rozzers before each half and during scene changes. They also accompany the cast in various songs by Grant Olding and their presence adds immeasurably to the proceedings.
All in all, One Man, Two Guvnors is a hugely enjoyable comedy and comes highly recommended.
The production can be seen at Derby Theatre until September 28.
For tickets, call the box office on 01332 593939 or you can click here.
Photos by Robert Day